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Coronavirus: how families and friends can support older loved ones

You may need to limit contact with older loved ones and friends during the coronavirus crisis. Here's what you can do to help them stay safe and avoid feeling isolated.

Coronavirus: how families and friends can support older loved ones

Last updated: 22 April 2020

Older people are at greater risk of serious health complications if they come into contact with coronavirus.

With the continuing spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19), many people will be concerned about visiting older relatives or neighbours in case they inadvertently expose them to the virus.

While it may be necessary to limit close contact with vulnerable people, there are plenty of ways for family and friends to help older people avoid becoming lonely or isolated.

Do older people need to self-isolate?

In order to reduce the spread of coronavirus, the government is asking everyone to reduce their interaction with other people, wherever possible. 

On 23 March the UK government introduced strict measures to limit people’s movements. Everyone in the UK must now stay at home to help contain the spread of the virus. People will be allowed to leave their homes only for ‘very limited purposes’: shopping for basic necessities, taking exercise once a day, looking after medical or care needs, or unavoidable travel to and from work.

These measures will undoubtedly cause concern for many older people and their families.

Can I continue to visit older loved ones?

One important exception to the new rules on staying at home is that people may still leave their home ‘to help a vulnerable person’.  This means you can continue to visit an older loved one, if you are doing so to provide them with essential care or support. Purely social visits are not allowed.

Other important guidelines you should continue to follow:

  • Anyone experiencing symptoms related to the virus, however mild, should avoid coming into contact with older people. 
  • If your loved one has symptoms, they should self-isolate for seven days, or 14 days if they live with others – see the NHS guidance on when to self-isolate.
  • If you do need to visit them for important reasons, you should minimise the time spent outside of your home, try to keep a distance of two metres (about three steps) at all times and avoid any unnecessary physical contact.
  • Follow strict hand hygiene routines before, during and after visiting.

How families and friends can help prevent isolation

If an older friend or loved one lives alone, it’s vital that they don’t become isolated and out of touch.

The key thing to consider is that while social distancing is essential right now, older people should be given as much support as possible during this period. Cutting off social connections can be harmful for older people.

Here’s what you can do the help:

  • Keep in touch by telephone as much as possible – this can provide reassurance that they will not be isolated or ignored.
  • Consider technology options to keep in touch – apps like Skype, WhatsApp and Facetime can help provide much-needed face-to-face contact.
  • If your loved one is less confident with technology, help them to set up any useful digital services, such as online shopping and banking or streaming services for TV and movies.
  • Find out what supplies they need and arrange to drop off food and other provisions, or help them to arrange online deliveries.
  • Set up a contingency plan for a friend or loved one. Make a list of key contacts, medical information, and who can step in if a main carer is unavailable. Find more guidance from Carers UK on how to make a plan.
  • If it will be difficult to provide regular help to a vulnerable loved one, explore how assistive technology and telecare options could help keep them safe at home in the longer term.

If you’re concerned about the safety of a loved one who is stuck at home, read our home safety tips for older people – 8 ways older people can stay safer at home.

How to arrange essential supplies

If you can’t visit the person you care for in-person because of coronavirus symptoms, you can register for government support (England-only) on behalf of someone with a condition that makes them extremely vulnerable to coronavirus. This way you’ll be able to ask for help getting deliveries of essential supplies such as food.

If you’re not sure whether the person you care for has a medical condition that makes them ‘extremely vulnerable’, it’s best to register anyway. Have their NHS number to hand if possible.

There is alternative online guidance for: Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Many local support groups have been set up around the country by charities and voluntary groups. These groups are helping to deliver essential supplies to people who are vulnerable or self-isolating. Find out more about local support groups.

Some of the UK’s biggest supermarkets are introducing special opening hours and priority online delivery slots for NHS workers and vulnerable people. It may also be worth contacting local shops, cafes and restaurants as some are taking orders via telephone and will deliver to vulnerable or isolated people.

Can I visit my loved one in a care home?

The government recommends that care homes restrict all non-essential visits. If you have an important reason to see someone in a care home, you should contact the home in advance before attempting to visit. The care home manager will decide whether your visit is essential. Don’t attempt to visit if you feel unwell, however mild.

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